Feeds

What's happened to whistling?

Interesting twitterings

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Also in this week's column:

What's happened to whistling?

Why do humans whistle?

Whistling is the uttering of a clear sound by blowing or drawing air through puckered lips.

"Whistling" is from the Old English hwistlian and the proto-German khwis and refers to the imitative hissing sound of a serpent.

There are five types of whistling: Finger (wolf), hand, palate (roof), pucker, and throat. Humans whistle for many reasons. Among these are to express happiness, cope with boredom, alleviate anxiety, or simply enhance pleasure.

Whistling is one of the earliest forms of human communication and evolved from the calls of other animals and the utterances of our primate ancestors. Entire human languages are based around whistling (whistle speech). One of the most famous of these is Silbo Gomero - the so-called "whistling language" of the Canary Islands. It has four vowels, four consonants, and over 4000 words - all of which are whistled. Other whistling languages are spoken in Burma, China, Greece, Mexico, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Turkey.

Why don't we whistle as much as we used to?

(Asked by Nicole Haack, The Nicole Haack Program, Radio 5AA, Adelaide, Australia

No scientific studies exist to back up the claim that humans whistle less, more, or just about the same today compared with a generation ago. But the popular perception certainly exists that humans now whistle less.

If so, is it because people are less happy, less bored, less anxious, or less desirous of pleasure? It is difficult to prove any of these. Perhaps it is partly due to technology. Radios and music players are now very portable. People when walking used to whistle. Now they are hooked up to their iPods where they only listen.

Or, it may be partly due to the fact that most popular songs today are less "whistleable" than tunes of yesteryear. Try whistling a rap! Or it may even be that we have less time for whistling today as so many of us lead increasingly busy lives. We also live more crowded lives too. We may be concerned about offending people who may regard our whistling as an infringement upon their space and privacy. Or it may be that whistling is simply regarded today as unfashionable.

In an interview, a famous super model said that models never smile on the catwalk because smiling is considered by the industry to be unfashionable and unsophisticated. If it can happen to smiling, it can happen to whistling.

Whistling facts

Abnormal whistling can be a symptom of epilepsy.

Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the great English literary figure, suffered from involuntary whistling. It is now believe he suffered from Tourette’s syndrome.

Whistling Face Syndrome (aka Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome) is a rare inherited disorder involving craniofacial and often limb abnormalities. The mouth is tiny and in a permanent puckering position resembling someone trying to whistle, hence the name.

Russian folklore holds that whistling brings bad luck. ®

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.